Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Eight Principles of Learning

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 27, 2000

Our new society will be a learning society. Learning, though, is evolving into a new form. Pat Clifford and Sharon Friessen of the Galileo Project capture this new form with their eight principles of learning.

  • Learning is not private; it is a social activity.
  • Creativity and innovation require rebels and heretics, not conformists.
  • Learning needs a supportive environment consisting of three elements:
  •  the campfire, a place where people come together to learn from experts
  •  the watering hole, where people gather informally
  •  the cave, where people can withdraw and contemplate
  • Learning crosses hierarchical boundaries. Knowledge is no longer proprietary, it no longer belongs in the hands on an elite.
  • Self directed and personalized learning is absolutely essential.
  • Learning by doing is more powerful than memorizing. What's memorable is more important than what's memorized. We are moving from the analytical to the experiential.
  • Failure to learn is often the fault of the system, not the fault of the learner.
  • Sometimes the very best learning is unlearning. We need to learn how to do new things, not how to do old things in new ways.

Designers of any enterprise - from smart communities to e-commerce start-ups - would do well to reflect on these principles; they describe society as a whole, not merely the future of schools.

As part of the same presentation, Al price and Cam McNicol of Axia NetMedia showcased their online learning environment, making three important observations along the way:

  1. You need to begin by defining the learning community. Understanding the community builds trust, and also ensures that the resource you build will be relevant to their needs.
  2. The individual is almost always the expert. You promote that expertise by asking questions; you recognize that expertise by providing feedback.
  3. When a learner is in a place, they should understand the purpose of the place.

 But their demonstration - a career evaluation tool called Job Connect - provoked some concern in my own mind.

JobConnect  - a.k.a. Futures - is a resource intended to be used by guidance counselors in schools working with disadvantaged youth. It is intended to set goals and expectations among a client group which has lived through several generations of unemployment.

But JobConnect is a stand-alone product. You cannot access it on the web; you need to have a password to enter. The product is marketed to organizations such as school boards through a per-seat licensing agreement. And while it provides links to job listings in different fields, its resources are otherwise all self-contained.

I wondered, for example, whether a disadvantaged youth would want to think of his future as consisting entirely as a worker. True, the software helps the user evaluate his values and beliefs, but the only output, the only outcome is a job. True, everybody must work, but not everybody defines themselves through their work.

I wondered about the programs connections with other environments. There is a large gap between expressing aptitudes and getting a job, a gap filled only by learning and experience. But there were no links to learning materials in the system, no way to connect one's aspirations with the tools needed to realize those aspirations.

And I wondered about the proposed methodology. The student is expected to use the program under the stewardship of a guidance counselor or parent. There is no mechanism for interaction with peers or practitioners in the field. And I wondered how honest a troubled seventeen year-old would be when completing the values and beliefs component with his father looking on.

To be sure, I had only a brief look at the program. But it seemed to me to violate everything the Galileo staff had said about learning - and it also seemed to be the very model of learning applications so in vogue today. JobConnect is a program as it would be written by administrators, not by students. It reflects a government's goals, not a citizens. It fosters isolation and dependence, not community and independence.

With modern technology, we can build anything. But this means that we have to be careful not to build old tools or to instantiate old ideas.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

Copyright 2024
Last Updated: Jul 22, 2024 11:16 p.m.

Canadian Flag Creative Commons License.